It has been 149 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Friday, the fighting in the Donbas continues.
Running out of steam
The Russian forces continued with limited ground assaults against Siversk (in the north of the Donbas) and Bakhmut (in the south of the Donbas). However, despite an end to the operational pause, the Russian military has failed to achieve anything significant over the past few days. The Russian war effort seems to be running out of steam.
“The current Russian operational tempo is not markedly different from the pace of Russian offensive operations during the official Russian operational pause, and Russian forces are unlikely to be able to take significant ground in the coming weeks,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest operational update.
Moreover, according to the Institute for the Study of War, the Russian military has likely used up to 60 percent of its high-precision weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles. The shortage of high-precision weapon systems is becoming increasingly evident as the Russian military is having to resort to weapons with different roles for ground strikes. For example, over the past few weeks, the Russian forces have used S-300 and S-400 strategic air-defense missiles to strike ground targets.
Every day, the Ukrainian military is providing an update on their claimed Russian casualties. These numbers are official figures and haven’t been separately verified.
However, Western intelligence assessments and independent reporting corroborate, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian casualty claims. For example, the Oryx open-source intelligence research page has visually verified the destruction or capture of almost 900 Russian tanks (which amounts to more tanks than the combined armor capabilities of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and more than 4,700 military vehicles of all types; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.
The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. Recently, the Pentagon acknowledged that the Russian military has lost thousands of combat vehicles of all types, including over 1,000 tanks, and dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.
Furthermore, more recent reports that are citing Western intelligence officials indicate that the Russian military has suffered up to 20,000 fatalities in the war so far. Sir Tony Radakin, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, recently told the BBC that the West understands that more than 50,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the conflict thus far. If we were to take the Ukrainian figures as accurate, the number mentioned by Sir Radakin is on the low side of the spectrum.
Yet, it is very hard to verify the actual numbers unless one is on the ground. However, after adjusting for the fog of war and other factors, the Western official numbers are fairly close to the Ukrainian claims.
As of Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 39,000 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,920 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles destroyed
- 2,803 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,704 tanks
- 863 artillery pieces
- 713 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 221 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 251 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 188 attack and transport helicopters
- 167 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
- 113 anti-aircraft batteries
- 72 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
- 15 boats and cutters
- four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems
Over the past weeks, the rate of Russian casualties has slowed down despite continuous pressure and offensive operations in the Donbas. This suggests two things: First, the Russian commanders are taking a more cautious approach to their offensive operations, fully utilizing combined arms warfare to achieve their goals; and second, the Ukrainian forces are running out of combat power or ammunition — and this is expected after nearly five months of war against the Russian military. Recent reports from the ground suggest that both of these factors are true, and that the fatigue of warfare is catching up on both sides.
For most of May, the Russian military suffered the greatest casualties around the Slovyansk, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhzhia areas, reflecting the heavy fighting that was going on there. As the days and weeks went on, most of the heavy fighting shifted toward the direction of Bakhmut, southeast of Slovyansk, around Severodonetsk, Lyman, and Lysychansk.
Then the location of the heaviest casualties shifted again westwards toward the area of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — where one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants is located — as a result of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in and around the area.
Then, the concentration of casualties once more shifted back to the Donbas, and especially in and around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the two urban centers the Russians managed to capture lately.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces inflicted the heaviest casualties in the direction of Bakhmut and Kryvyi Rih.
The stated goal of the Russian military for the renewed offensive in the east is to establish full control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and create and maintain a land corridor between these territories and the occupied Crimea.
Feature Image: A Russian recon soldier resting during an exercise break in 2011. (Photo by Vitaly Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons)